Laurie Bowen, Communications Director, Purple Heart Homes, Golden Corner Chapter
by Laurie Bowen, Communications Director, Purple Heart Homes, Golden Corner Chapter
Purple Heart Homes USA is a 501(c)3 public charity that was founded in 2008 by John Gallina and the late Dale Beatty, two combat wounded veterans. Purple Heart Homes is dedicated to providing housing solutions for service-connected disabled and aging veterans that are substantial in function, design, and quality fit to welcome home the fighting men and women of America. Headquartered in Statesville, NC, Purple Heart Homes USA established its first chapter in Upstate South Carolina in 2013 to better service local veterans. The Golden Corner Chapter serves veterans in Anderson, Pickens and Oconee counties, but we have traveled further when the need requires. Our mission includes providing veterans with free services such as building decks and ramps, widening doorways, renovating bathrooms with walk-in showers, installing grab bars and other home improvements that address safety and accessibility and provide veterans with peace of mind. As of May 2020, we have completed 85 projects and are hoping to reach our 100th veteran served by the end of this year.
Covid-19 has adversely impacted our ability to service local veterans. Many of our 100% volunteer workforce and the veterans we serve are aging and/or have underlying health concerns that make them vulnerable. As a result, we have suspended much of our operations that take us into veterans’ homes during what is typically our busiest time of year. When we are required to enter veterans’ homes, our volunteers wear masks and practice social distancing. We are also limiting our work on veterans’ homes to outdoor projects as much as possible. We are using this time to take new applications and perform project and budgetary planning so that we can resume work when conditions are more favorable. Of the 11 open projects, 5 are in various stages of completion. The remaining 6 will require volunteer teams to have prolonged access to veterans’ homes and are on hold.
Our volunteers have found additional ways to give back during the outbreak. We have raised funds and collected food for veterans who were affected by the tornado in Oconee County and others who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 pandemic. Our Chapter Communications Director, Laurie Bowen, has been sewing masks for veterans, corrections officers, first responders and healthcare workers free of charge. So far, she has donated over 500 masks and more are available. She plans to distribute additional masks to veterans in need through local VA organizations. We have received donations to our chapter from mask recipients, and many have donated to purchase more materials for additional masks. We have also donated N95 masks to volunteers working the Oconee County tornado recovery efforts.
COVID-19 has also limited the ability to raise the funds needed to purchase materials and services for our veteran projects. With 94% of all funding going directly to veteran projects, we rely on the generosity of individuals and local philanthropic organizations who host fundraising events or provide proceeds from thrift stores. The Coronavirus has forced the cancellation or postponement of fundraising events and temporarily shut down retail stores, impacting 2020 revenue. In this great time of need, many local charities are competing for limited resources to carry out our missions.
We are committed to insuring veterans get the help they need to make their homes safe and accessible one home at a time. For more information about volunteering in your area or to file an application, please visit our website.
We are accepting donations Amazon Smile, Facebook and Purple Heart Homes USA website. The Purple Heart Homes Golden Corner Chapter has achieved Guidestar’s Platinum level for transparency in 2019 and 2020.
Nate Moore, Director of Community Engagement, Upstate Warrior Solution
by Nate Moore, Director of Community Engagement, Upstate Warrior Solution & U.S. Marine Corps, Retired
“I’m living two paychecks behind right now,” local veteran Chris W. said. Chris was medically separated from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1979 and has spent the last 40 years dealing with the ups and downs of readjusting to life in the “civilian world.” An unexpected move to Greenville in late 2019 wiped out his savings and made it difficult to pay the high gas bills from January and February. When COVID-19 hit in early March, his financial situation worsened. Because Chris is at a high-risk for COVID-19, he could no longer take public transportation or have people drive him without risking his health. He had to purchase a car to buy groceries and go to the Asheville VA for medical appointments.
The VA referred Chris to Upstate Warrior Solution (UWS) in April. The UWS team walked him through the application process for their COVID-19 Emergency Resource Fund. This is a $50,000 relief fund provided in partnership with the Premier Foundation in Greer, South Carolina. Shortly after he sent in his application, Chris was approved for rent and utility assistance so he could catch up on his bills. “I’m grateful,” Chris wrote to Upstate Warrior Solution. “The help I received fixed two main issues. Since resources are in short supply, the timing was perfect. Thank you to all concerned.”
Many veterans and their families, like Chris, are experiencing new difficulties due to circumstances brought about by COVID-19. Foreseeing this need, Upstate Warrior Solution stayed committed to serving our warrior community even when the pandemic brought the world to a halt in March. This commitment to continue working was conveyed in a letter sent out by UWS Chairman of the Board Mastin Robeson and President Charlie Hall, which said we would contact the all roughly 7,300 Upstate warriors and their families and maintain close contact with our network of community partners.
As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, so did the parameters of how our team continued to serve veterans, service members, first responders, and their families. First, the four offices were closed to walk-ins to reduce the exposure to the virus. Warriors could still come in if they made an appointment. Next, due to the social distancing rules, most of our staff started working remotely. To continue to answer phones and serve warriors who came into our offices, the leadership team and some staff volunteered to come in on specific days so there would always be someone in the offices.
Since March 16, the UWS team has contacted over 2,200 veterans across the Upstate to assess any needs they have, especially those related to the virus. Out of the 304 cases our team has worked over the past two months, 21% have been employment-related. Family services and housing have also been areas of need, comprising 16% and 12% of our case work, respectively. Our outreach was not limited to existing contacts. From March to April, we connected with 208 new veterans and 39 family members.
To date, UWS has awarded a total of $6,235 to eight applicants for the emergency relief fund through Premier Foundation. These funds have provided direct payment of mortgages, utilities, and car repairs for veterans who have been furloughed or are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. 100% of warriors who have applied for the relief fund have received assistance. In addition to our warrior outreach, we have connected with nearly 300 community partners and 650 supporters, assuring them of our continued engagement during this time
To further serve our warriors during the pandemic, we participated in Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity created as an emergency response to COVID-19, on May 5. Our team set a goal to raise $5,000 to support our warriors and provide mirth during a difficult time. We set monetary benchmarks. Once the donations hit those benchmarks, our directors completed a challenge or two to engage our community on Facebook and Instagram. We had a blast as our leaders participated in the ice bucket challenge, a soda can crushing contest, and a surprise appearance from a large pink bunny, resembling Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” We finished the day by egging our president then finishing him off with well thrown water balloons. By the end of the week, we were noticed by the community and raised a total of $27,600!
Our team has learned the power of perseverance during the COVID-19 shutdown. As our staff and volunteers who are veterans know all too well, staying dedicated to the mission during challenging circumstances requires teamwork and thinking outside the box. We have benefited as a team over the last several months, learning more about each other and how we can work more effectively and efficiently.
I am thankful to be a successfully transitioned veteran, living in Upstate SC and able to assist my brothers and sisters who have served our country in uniform. I am also incredibly thankful for all our dedicated community partners who have come alongside UWS as a “combined arms” team!
Catriona Carlisle, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Greenville
by Catriona Carlisle, Executive Director, Meals on Wheels of Greenville
Meals on Wheels of Greenville continues to serve nearly 1,900 clients each week during the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing and practicing health and safety protocols for clients, volunteers, and staff. These protocols include a new drive-thru meal pickup service for delivery volunteers, limiting the number of volunteers in the office at each time, providing masks and gloves to all volunteers, and recommending proper hand cleaning in between meal deliveries. Additionally, volunteers are asked to follow new contactless delivery protocols, which include placing meal deliveries on a porch surface or door knob, ringing the doorbell or knocking to notify the client they have arrived, stepping back at least 6 feet and ensuring the client receives their meals. The unwavering support of the Greenville community has ensured that these protocols are followed and have kept many involved in our mission healthy and allows them to continue to serve. We are grateful for the loyalty to our mission!
Over the past 8 weeks, Meals on Wheels has seen a 28% increase in clients who need our service. The hot nutritious meal and personal interaction are important for all of our clients, but during the crisis we have found they need more. The population we serve are the most vulnerable for this virus and they are depending on us. Meals on Wheels has worked hard to expand services to those in need. A small way this has been accomplished is through the distribution of frozen emergency meals, snack supplement bags, personal care supplements, and hygiene kits to clients. Recently, Meals on Wheels of Greenville also announced a partnership with Senior Resources and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, a program called the Emergency Senior Nutrition Program. This program allows Meals on Wheels to offer three meal distribution sites throughout Greenville County for senior citizen (60+) residents. Sites are offered each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in Pelzer, Fountain Inn, and Berea in an effort to serve as many in need as possible. Recipients are allowed to pickup once per week from any of these sites and receive 5 frozen meals, free of charge.
Eligibility requirements must be met to receive free meal services from this program. Recipients must be a senior citizen (60+), or a caregiver taking a meal to a senior citizen, and must reside in Greenville County. All recipients must show a state-issued ID and provide a name, address, and phone number at pick-up. Since senior citizens are at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis, the partnership between Meals on Wheels of Greenville, Senior Resources, and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina allows us to continue to provide and expand services to those that need it most.
Meals on Wheels of Greenville will continue to serve through the crisis and continues to adapt to the everchanging landscape of what that looks like. Follow COVID-19 updates and learn more about the Emergency Senior Nutrition program at www.MealsonWheelsGreenville.org.
Elizabeth Davis, President, Furman University
“Pivot” is a word we’re using a lot these days. It may not feel like it now, but it wasn’t long ago that COVID-19 was an abstract disease happening halfway
around the world. It has since hit Americans and American culture and business with a force we won’t fully understand for years.
So, we pivot, keeping one foot grounded in our typical worlds—work, school, family and friends—while swinging the other around to adjust to new challenges until we find a toehold to do our work and make connections in the most effective way possible.
Countless times over the past several months, Furman University, like you and your organizations across the Upstate, faced challenges. Like you, we kept one foot in our guiding principles and pivoted the other. Professors figured out how to teach remotely, students adjusted to learning from home, and our staff answered myriad new challenges.
Commencement is possibly the most exciting time at Furman, with numerous ceremonies and traditions that celebrate our graduating seniors. Without students on campus, we were faced with how to make our seniors feel special. We pivoted, and last Saturday I did something I never imagined would happen: I conferred degrees to Furman graduates virtually, through a video we emailed to the Furman community and posted on our website.
It is impressive and encouraging to see others in the Upstate respond so deftly. Prisma Health, our campus medical partner, quickly set up drive-through COVID-19 testing and launched technology to help people determine if they needed to be tested.
Humimic Medical, a Greenville company that recently hired one of our students, switched from producing medical simulation materials to making face shields that nurses and doctors use as part of their protective equipment. Heath Hawkins, a new Furman alumnus and Humimic’s new employee, joined the company in the fall as an intern. Heath pivoted in a major way; he now leads the company’s sales and marketing strategy for its new product.
Danny Merck, superintendent of Pickens County School District and a fellow in The Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative, mobilized his food service workers and his school bus drivers to deliver 12,500 meals a week to students far and wide who depend on school for a nutritious meal. In an interview with The Riley Institute, Superintendent Merck reminded everyone that caring for people is every organization’s primary responsibility. “It’s about ‘who,’ not ‘what.’ If you protect the people you hire, they’re always going to be more motivated to serve the people they work with, the students. We have made sure that our plan was not built on the production of the employee, but instead on the well-being of the employee.”
Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship pivoted, too, moving their popular Summer Business and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp to a virtual format, accommodating 50 students from eight universities across the Southeast. For more than two weeks, students will hear from business leaders and entrepreneurs, engaging in a mentoring program and delivering a capstone project. Thanks to the Greenville Local Development Corporation, more than 10 students will have paid virtual internships with NEXT partner companies following the bootcamp.
I’ve also been inspired by stories of Furman alumni, those who had no choice but to pivot and those who chose to do so despite knowing the dangers that awaited. Anna Downs was a fourth-year medical student in Kentucky who contracted COVID-19 and spent nearly 10 days as a patient. She recently graduated. The CEO of KershawHealth, Sue Shugart, was in her position less than six months when her hospital became ground zero for COVID-19 in the state. Jonathan Davis is an emergency medicine doctor in Georgia, and his friend Ben Daxon is an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic; they each volunteered to work a week in New York City hospitals, caring for patients dying of the virus.
There are countless other examples that make me proud to be the president of Furman and a citizen of the Upstate.
At Furman, we’re working through plans for a safe and successful return to campus in the fall. While none of us knows what the future looks like for our respective organizations, we should all know that we have the skill and talent to figure it out. The pandemic has shown all of us that we can pivot to adjust to whatever challenge comes our way.
Elizabeth Davis, President
Alex Moore, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, United Way of the Piedmont
by Alex Moore, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, United Way of the Piedmont
In this new world of COVID-19, we are all seeing a lot of good deeds and outpouring of support. Much of the world is doing their best to make lemonade out of these pandemic-flavored lemons. From personal gift baskets and collections for frontline healthcare workers, nonprofits who need our help “now more than ever,” individuals sewing masks and donating goods, there’s a lot of good happening. However, there’s still so much need right now it can be hard to know where or how to do some good.
For United Way of the Piedmont’s part, we’ve focused on doing what we do best: convening partners, informing the community, and finding solutions to problems as they arise. United Way of the Piedmont (UWP) covers Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union Counties, and we have been holding weekly check-in calls for each county to assess needs and resources. We have also been providing direct service through our Community Resource Coordinators who serve as our boots on the ground, connecting families to resources and providing financial assistance.
This financial assistance comes directly from UWP’s United for All Fund, which is a disaster relief fund that has been activated in response to COVID-19. The fund directly supports individuals and families in Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union counties through the Community Resource Coordinator program. Funds are primarily used to support families who have lost wages due to COVID-19 with expenses like rent/mortgage, utilities, and food.
Since beginning this work in mid-March, UWP Community Resource Coordinators have assisted more than 125 households with assistance related to COVID-19. Of these families, 52% have never received assistance before. Currently, we are averaging two calls for assistance per hour which represents a steady increase over the past several weeks. We anticipate the need will continue to grow and we will continue to see the economic effects of COVID-19 on families in new and unique ways.
However, we are not alone in this work. While United Way is a global brand, there are 25 United Ways that operate at a local level across the state. Each United Way is responding differently according to the capacity of their organization and the needs of their community. Below is a list of the United Ways in the Upstate with links to their websites:
Not every community has a United Way or even a large number of nonprofits, but they still have people who need help. To address needs at a statewide level, the One SC Fund has been activated in response to COVID-19. The One SC Fund: COVID-19 Response is a partnership between SC Grantmakers Network, Together SC, and the United Way Association of SC. The funds will be held at Central Carolina Community Foundation. The funds deployed will enhance the efforts already underway in several counties and regions across South Carolina and will be used to address gaps in the response efforts, including support for communities that lack resources or an organized philanthropic response. The One SC Fund also provides an easy way to donate for companies or individuals who wish to make a statewide impact due to having multiple facilities in multiple locations.
Whatever your passion or desired impact, there’s an organization or fund out there to help you make that impact. And for our part at United Way of the Piedmont, we consider it our job, but really our privilege, to help you connect to those organizations.
Angie Gossett, Greenville Regional Marketing Director, BCBS of SC
by Angie Gossett, Greenville Regional Marketing Director, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, with Sharon Purvis
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has been offering medical benefits to South Carolinians for more than 70 years and is one of the largest employers in the state. The company is also a major supporter of community and charitable organizations, including Ten at the Top. As the pandemic crisis unfolded, BCBS of SC mobilized to support its members and providers, but also communities across the state, providing funding for food for seniors as well as PPEs for doctors’ offices.
Q: Catriona Carlisle of Meals on Wheels Greenville told us in last week’s TATT Chat about a program that is funded by BCBS to feed seniors in 15 counties in South Carolina. Which other Upstate counties does that cover, and how did that partnership come about?
BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has had a very long association with Senior Resources. We recognize that Seniors are a vulnerable population and based on data from the South Carolina Department on Aging there are roughly 200,000 South Carolinians over 60 years of age who are food insecure. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of affected individuals. We saw an immediacy to the need and we wanted to do what we could to help. Through BlueCross and the BlueCross Foundation, we are providing nearly $1.6 million to expand Senior Resources’ emergency senior nutrition program, which is giving five free meals weekly to eligible homebound elderly. This contribution is anticipated to provide 245,000 meals. Through this model, we are able to assist seniors in Richland, Anderson, Clarendon, Lexington, Barnwell, Calhoun, Fairfield, Greenville, Horry, Kershaw, McCormick, Newberry, Oconee, Orangeburg and Williamsburg counties.
Q: As someone who is covered by BCBS, I received an email explaining that I can access a free telehealth consultation through BCBS (using my membership number). What has been the response to that? Have a lot of people used this benefit?
With the Stay At Home order and the need to socially distance from others, we recognized that members likely would not feel comfortable going to the doctor’s office, so we are supporting both of these efforts and offered for anyone to use our special coupon code with our telehealth product Blue CareOnDemand. When members use the coupon code, COVID19, they can access a telehealth provider at no cost until June 1. This code allows for a member to have a video visit, regardless if the visit is related to COVID-19 or for another reason such as urgent care, behavioral health, or lactation consulting. When we made this option available, we saw a spike in utilization, which meant longer wait times for those calling in; however, the wait times have decreased as more providers have been added to be able to assist members with these services.
Q: Does BCBS have a role in COVID-19 testing?
BlueCross BlueShield is not administering COVID-19 testing; however, we are covering testing and the associated visit at no cost to the member. We are also waiving any pre-authorizations for members with COVID-19-related conditions and treatment. For our fully insured employer group customers, we are also waiving out-of-pocket costs for members with COVID-19 related services with in network providers. If a member has questions about how we are covering COVID-19 services for their plan, they should call the number on the back of their ID card.
Q: What other initiatives has BCBS launched to help with the COVID-19 outbreak in South Carolina?
We have donated $100,000 to the Red Cross and are encouraging employees who feel comfortable donating blood to find their local blood bank to help support the local blood shortage.
Q: Have there been unexpected impacts on your company and industry that people may not know about?
BlueCross BlueShield is considered an essential company, so when the Stay At Home order went into effect, we quickly made changes to support this effort through moving employees to a work from home status or staggering shifts to maintain social distancing while still maintaining the service levels that our providers and members have come to expect from us.
Q: What partnerships has BCBS formed to help with the pandemic that may seem surprising?
BlueCross BlueShield collaborated with the Charleston County Medical Society to help coordinate delivery of 300,000 pieces of personal protection equipment (PPE) that independent physicians and medical practice representatives had pre-ordered. This effort, dubbed Action PPE South Carolina, came about because of the lack of access to PPE for physicians and medical personnel practicing in clinics and small or independent practices. Since priority to PPE was given to hospital systems and government agencies, it meant that doctors and their staffs had to create their own solution, and the Charleston County Medical Society and BlueCross were pleased to help. We know that these practices are seeing our members too, and the safety of our providers and members is important to us.
Q: Is there anything else you would like people to know about what BCBS is doing during the pandemic?
We have had many employees volunteering outside of their normal jobs during the pandemic through various activities. They have been making masks to donate, assisting others to get needed supplies, delivering groceries to those unable to get out and providing financial support to those organizations who are being negatively impacted. Through our outreach we are touching members, providers, and the community. We have been doing our part and stepping up as we always do as a good corporate citizen in our support of vulnerable citizens.